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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that contribution. He said that it is inconceivable that the costs of welfare should continue to rise if one extrapolates them. I believe that he is right. I had some calculations done as to what would happen if £10 per week was added to every benefit. It would not make people hugely wealthy or prosperous, but it would be useful. People will not be able to afford a holiday on an extra £10 per head in benefit. They would be unable to have an extravagant lifestyle. Yet the cost of increasing every benefit by £10 per week is £20 billion. That confirms the point made by my noble friend. Increasing benefits will not get people out of poverty. That is why we have been emphasising work for those who can and, with the available resources, security for those who cannot.
My noble friend said that reform was non-negotiable. That is right. My right honourable friend said in the other place that how we do it is indeed for discussion on the basis of Green Papers. As has been made clear in our earlier discussions on disability benefits, we seek to do that by consent. My noble friend is also absolutely right in that we are committed to a better society.
Baroness Fookes: My Lords, I gather that the Child Support Agency is to be reformed and not abolished, as we thought at one time. Can the noble Baroness say what precisely will happen in practical terms? As we discovered before, the devil is in the detail. What is the detail now?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the detail will be the subject of a Green Paper, as I made clear at the beginning. It is a highly technical subject. It is true that the method of child support will be reformed rather than the CSA. In the process I hope that we shall be able to change the culture so that non-resident fathers recognise their responsibilities to their children both in financial and emotional terms. We want to see reformed child support, making sure that maintenance, for example, does not subvert contact. We want fathers to both pay maintenance for their children and to have contact with them. We shall be bringing forward a Green Paper in due course which seeks to ensure that as a result of these measures, the children enjoy the emotional and financial support of both parents, whether they live together or not. That Green Paper will be produced over the next year.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, in fact, the Green Paper was better than some of us anticipated. Nevertheless, is the noble Baroness aware that it will disappoint many, particularly pensioners, who had nothing out of the Budget and who have certainly got nothing out of this Green Paper? My first question is this. Can I have her absolute assurance that the basic state pension, increased by the cost of living every year, will continue not only for this Parliament, but beyond it?
My second question refers to the Child Support Agency. We understand that it is to be reformed. Will it be reformed in such a way that males in particular will have proper access to their children provided that they make a proper contribution to their upkeep?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, my noble friend said that he was disappointed at the lack of mention of pensioners. I am grateful and appreciative that he responds warmly to the Green Paper, but I am sorry that he does not feel that we have given pensioners the due that he believes that they should have. He will recall that it was the Labour Party that ensured that VAT on fuel was not increased, but reduced, for pensioners. As a government we have introduced the winter fuel payment. We are about to start a £15 million pilot scheme for pensioners to ensure, through data-matching, that they take up the income support that they should. Perhaps I may give the pledge that my noble friend is asking for. This Green Paper reiterates and restates our commitment to the basic state pension rising at least in line with inflation as the foundation of our pension provision.
Lord Whitty: With the leave of the Committee, proceedings today are starting rather later than had been agreed, but I assure the Committee that discussions through the usual channels are proceeding to make more time available for the Bill after Easter although I regret that I cannot at present say how much or exactly when. Nevertheless, I hope that we can make substantial progress tonight.
Lord Shore of Stepney: This is a resumption of our debate on Amendment No. 5 which was interrupted at close of play on Tuesday. It is also a debate on a cluster of amendments dealing with the whole question of a single foreign policy and the associated arrangements for defence. It is, therefore, a matter of profound importance to the future security of this country and of our partners in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
It is also timely that we should be debating this matter today because, as I understand it, an important event is taking place in Moscow where President Yeltsin is meeting President Chirac and Chancellor Kohl to discuss many matters relating to foreign policy in the European continent. Rather to my surprise, the British Prime Minister is not there, but is in his proper place, if you like, here at home at No. 10. However, we are members of the European Union and, as I understand it, we happen to hold the presidency at present. The noble Baroness who spoke for the Liberal Party on Tuesday and pointed out that there was a very long way to go
Perhaps I may remind the Committee of the events that led recently to the near-confrontation with Iraq. There was, indeed, a serious threat to the continued effectiveness of the United Nations inspectorate in that country. The issue was of major importance: the detection of weapons of mass destruction which are currently in the hands of a known aggressor and a known--I was going to say "madman", but I am not sure whether that is an appropriate word--but, at any rate, a very dangerous ruler. In pursuit of earlier Security Council resolutions, the United States and the United Kingdom--properly, in my view--rallied together and brought the threat of force to the Gulf in the very visible presence of aircraft carriers with strike aircraft.
What to me was extraordinary was the lack of public utterance by our fellow members of the European Union. My noble friend Lady Symons, who is to reply to this debate, answered a Question on this a week or so ago. The Question had been tabled by my noble friend Lord Hardy and related to the extent to which European Union countries had rallied. My noble friend Lady Symons said that some of them had offered what I can only describe as a "minuscule" contribution. There was a frigate from the Dutch; a frigate from the Belgians; and airport facilities from Germany, Italy and Spain. There was total silence--conspicuous absence from even those endeavours--from France. As we all know, the government of France were actively operating against the Anglo-American and Security Council mobilisation against the government of Iraq.
One might say, "So much for a common foreign policy", but I want to go a bit further into it than that and to put to the Committee the fact that there are deep differences of approach to international affairs between the different countries which are members of the European Union and, indeed, countries outside it. In this debate I want to test the whole reality--or, rather, the lack of reality--of the efforts to achieve a common foreign policy within the framework of the European treaties. I refer to the Treaty of Maastricht in particular and now to the Treaty of Amsterdam which enlarged the provisions in the Treaty of Maastricht relating to foreign policy, security policy and defence.
Nobody has any doubts about the unanimous wish for more effective co-operation in dealing with global security and political problems. I am not merely very much in favour of the efforts being made in different areas to increase security, but I welcome the fact that there are forums in which such matters can be discussed. Like other Members of the Committee, I think the greatest forum of all is the Security Council of the United Nations and, in terms of effective action in
So, I am very much in favour of international action and I have no objection at all to having a consultative mechanism with our friends and partners in the European Union. Indeed, I welcome that. Co-operation in foreign policy is to be welcomed. I have no doubt that following today's meeting in Moscow there will be reports back and that we can think about what has been said and consider it. That seems not unreasonable. I understand, again from my noble friend Lady Symons, and her previous Answer to a Question, that there were a number of consultations about what to do about Iraq, although they did not lead to any action on the part of the European Union. Let us be quite clear: we all want consultation, effective co-operation and action in the various forums which are effective.
The single foreign policy commitment in general terms comes in the Treaty of Maastricht and is slightly updated in the Treaty of Amsterdam. However, anyone who considers the language, or rather the strength of the language, in those treaties really has to scratch their head because we are apparently committed to the following under the provisions on a common foreign and security policy. It is stated:
Am I dreaming? Is this the real world? Clearly, it is not. However, that has the force of a treaty commitment, and not just one but two treaties. The section dealing with common foreign policy concludes with the words:
Clearly, there is a will on the part of many fellow members of the European Union to establish a common foreign policy. That will is expressed very strongly in the language of the treaty. Why is that not something that we can unambiguously welcome? We all know the answer. The reason is that on many important matters of national and international security the majority opinion on the Continent in the European Union is not our own and clashes with our obligations. The Gulf is an excellent example. Suppose that the members of the European Union had got together and had had a proper political discussion with a vote and public declaration at the end. Suppose that that public declaration was that the Union would not use or threaten to use force in the Gulf. Would we have been bound by it? Is that the thought behind this single foreign policy document? That would be absurd. Clearly, we could not allow it, not simply because it would be wrong but because our obligations go far beyond the European Union.
The European Union is Euro-centric about policy; it has no concept of global responsibility and international problems. We have. That is something we should retain and be proud of. We have obligations and commitments to a range of Commonwealth countries across the world. We have had a special obligation and commitment since the end of the war when we became not merely a founder member of the United Nations but a permanent member of the Security Council. That is a position which we share with four other nations. Because we are a member of the Security Council we have obligations which, frankly, the European Union is not necessarily concerned with and may seek to overrule.
I do not know whether I have understood it correctly. If my noble friend is able to interpret this very interesting provision and tell me what it really means in terms of our obligations to the Security Council and the European Union I shall be greatly indebted to him.
We know that there is a European Union presence now in virtually every important country. The European Union is expanding a diplomatic service. It now claims that other member states who have similar diplomatic representation should not do anything until they have concerted with and discussed it with the lead diplomatic representation, which is the office of the Commission in the countries concerned. I understand why some people are enthusiastic about a single foreign policy. They look forward to the possibility of achieving a great saving in expenditure and the phasing out of British diplomatic representation in favour of collective representation on our behalf by the European Commission office. Undoubtedly, that will have support in some parts of the Treasury but I hope that it will be firmly resisted by the Foreign Office.
I must now turn to defence. Whatever may be said about a common foreign and security policy, defence is probably even more important except that inevitably it is in tow to foreign policy. The Treaty of Amsterdam has a good deal to say about defence. I suggest that a proper reading of the provisions in the treaty referring to defence, in particular Article J.7, which is a large provision with many paragraphs, is that what is envisaged is the takeover of the Western European
The relevant article here is Article J.7. I hope that the Committee will forgive me for quoting a number of passages from the treaty, but these words of the treaty must be weighed and considered. To some extent--I do not say in this area--they are possibly subject to judicial interpretation. But certainly we are committed to wording to which we did not object at the time. This is what the treaty says about the question of defence:
The UK has--I have no doubt that my noble friend will refer to it--some wording that says, "Well, whatever happens with the WEU and the development of a common defence policy, our obligations to NATO, our arrangements with NATO will remain". In so far as it goes, that is a welcome reassurance. But of course it does not go all that far. The truth is that the arrangements made in the WEU and the EU could affect greatly the coherence of NATO as a whole because there is, in that, a clear threat of the separating out of the WEU from NATO, the WEU being under the command of the EU, and NATO being under the general direction of the NATO Council. There is a clear danger of a serious division of viewpoints and of policies.
We know that in other parts of the treaty there are half chapters about closer co-operation and the mechanisms for bringing that about under which, if a majority of EU states wish to go ahead, using the institutions, the resources and the finance of the Community, it can do so provided that certain conditions are met.
I want to know whether that closer co-operation, or flexibility clause, as we used to call it, applies also to the defence arrangements. If it does, it clearly opens the way for a majority of the EU states to formalise a defence treaty and to take over the WEU in the process.
That is something about which we should be worried. In addition, it is an indication of what lies ahead. There is a tiny little clause referring to Article N of the treaty at the end of the section on defence. Article N allows for the calling of a further IGC with specific reference to furthering and developing that defence and foreign policy commitment.
So we know: they can call another IGC. They have to work out arrangements within the next 12 months. It is a serious forward commitment of which we need to be conscious.
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